Monday, September 13, 2010

Hamas & Terrorism

I’ll preface my comments by stating categorically that I’m opposed to terrorism. And it’s clear that Hamas has resorted to acts of terrorism in its defense of Palestinians and its struggle for collective self-determination on their behalf. But to look at Hamas as a terrorist organization simpliciter strikes me as singularly unhelpful and unduly reductionist. Why? Because much of what Hamas as an organization and religious and political movement does falls well outside the scope of terrorism, one reason it has been able to garner widespread electoral support. And we might consider precisely why Hamas has resorted to acts of terrorism when it otherwise exhibits rationality as a collective actor, at least from the vantage points provided by political science and sociology. Given the striking asymmetrical nature of the conflict with the state of Israel, and the early use of such acts in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), it’s quite understandable why members of Hamas thought it necessary to resort to this kind of political violence: it proved successful in the past in bringing attention to the Palestinian cause and did not preclude the PLO’s eventual official recognition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” And of course the PLO itself would come to formally “reject violence and terrorism.” Keeping acts of terrorism in historical and political perspective enables one to sympathize with Hamas while at the same time appreciating what might be done to prompt Hamas to forswear resort to such tactics, which is not the same as refusing to use violence as a justified means of individual and collective self-defense (as in the Just War tradition or as similarly sanctioned within Islamic legal traditions under the rubric of ‘jihad’).

Part of the aforementioned historical and political perspective involves an appreciation of the fact that states, notably the United States, have themselves engaged in acts of what we rightly call “State terrorism,” as in the indiscriminate firebombing and dropping of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities during World War II or in the illegal bombing of Cambodia (and Laos) during the Vietnam war, terrrorist acts of a wholly different order of moral magnitude than anything done or imagined by Hamas or any other Palestinian group or faction for that matter. Of course, as our parents taught us, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but it helps make transparent the hypocrisy and self-righteousness that are part and parcel of the condemnation of Hamas by outside parties. Indeed, let’s recall the fact that the “founding fathers” of Israel introduced novel forms of terrorism into the Middle East conflict and relied on egregious acts of “ethnic cleansing,” forms of violence that directly contributed to the success of the Zionist and colonialist settler project that led to the state of Israel.

Speaking of Hamas simply and dismissively as a terrorist organization makes it difficult to appreciate the significance of the following propositions:

  1. Respected researchers in and outside Israel have thoroughly documented and explained how “Hamas is neither anti-modern or anti-democratic, nor inherently anti-Western.”
  2. Hamas recognizes the significance and relative authority of popular mandates.
  3. Like other rational collective actors, Hamas has historically been open and responsive to contractualist or quid pro quo bargaining and negotiations with the state of Israel, to which Israel has repeatedly responded with disdain and dismissal, topped off with on ongoing assassination campaign of its key leaders.
  4. Hamas’ ability to inflict violence is an important source of its political authority (recall that States are frequently defined by their de jure or de facto monopoly on the means of violence and that Hamas is fighting for recognition of a right to collective self-determination which, in our time and place, takes the form of a State). “While this capacity for violence provides important symbolic capital for Hamas as a whole, the majority of its political leaders derive the bulk of their authority from other sources—increasing the possibility of a transformation away form violence if Hamas members believe their basic security will be guaranteed through different means.”
  5. With regard to democratic and especially electoral politics (e.g., the municipal and legislative elections of 2004-2006), Hamas has made cross-ideological alliances and the bulk of its “election manifesto reads like that of any ‘secular’ political party.” As part of their decision to participate in electoral politics Hamas fielded “candidates with political and administrative, rather than paramilitary experience, [which] suggests that it recognizes that political capital in the domestic arena is derived from having non-violent, administrative skills and professional expertise than from a career in the resistance.”
  6. Hamas has repeatedly demonstrated a “readiness to make alliances, even with those who support a two-state solution and co-existence with Israel,” a fact that “further underlines that Hamas is not fanatical and incapable of compromise, but pragmatic.”
  7. Hamas leaders, notably Khalid Misha’al, have repeatedly stated they would not object to a two-state solution were the terms favorable to the “will of the people” (‘During the 2006 election campaign, senior Hamas legislative candidates Hasan Yousef and Muhammad Abu Tair categorized negotiations with Israel concerning a two-state solution as legitimate if they were both “in the interest of the people” and “presented to the new parliament,” the embodiment of the popular will.’) and their willingness to abide by a long-term hudna or truce (several decades, the terms of which would be renewable), evidences a de facto recognition of the state of Israel. Hamas is hardly prepared to pronounce a de-jure like or principled recognition until such time as Israel is willing to grant the collective right of self-determination to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (note again the logic of reciprocity).

Again, nothing said here prevents us from affirming our categorical moral, political, and legal rejection of terrorist acts, yet it should enable us to see why focusing exclusively on such acts inhibits our ability to contribute to the conditions that will enable Hamas to see the futility and folly of terrorism. Dismissals and condemnations come all too easy when unaccompanied by any meaningful acts by powerful outside parties to help alter the dynamics of the conflict in way that would put Hamas and other Palestinian groups on equal footing with the state of Israel so as to help create the propitious conditions of a meaningful negotiated resolution to the conflict, one that minimally entails full and formal recognition of the collective rights of self-determination for the Palestinians.

Hamas has abided by a number of ceasefires, both declared and de facto. And how did Israel, the U.S. and even the European states respond? How did these parties respond to Hamas’ considerable investment in democratic principles and procedures? And so forth and so on. As recent historical narratives will attest, acts of political terrorism are clearly acts of desperation and when otherwise rational collective political actors resort to same it’s possible if not probable that changing socio-political conditions can move these actors to abandon such immoral and illegal tactics and rely on more conventional means of resolving political conflict.

References and Further Reading:

  • Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim. The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1971.
  • Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim. Palestinian Rights: Affirmation and Denial. Wilmette, IL: Medina Press, 1982.
  • Anderson, Sean K. Historical Dictionary of Terrorism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2nd ed., 2009.
  • Aranson, Geoffrey. Israel, Palestinians and the Intifada: Creating Facts on the West Bank. London: Kegan Paul International, 1990.
  • Aruri, Naseer H. Dishonest Broker: The Role of the United States in Palestine and Israel. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2003.
  • Atran, Scott. “Genesis of Suicide Terrorism,” Science (March 2003) Vol. 299: 1534-1539.
  • Atran, Scott. “Who Becomes a Terrorist Today?” Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. II, 5 (March 2008): 3-10.
  • Baroud, Ramzy. The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle. London: Pluto Press, 2006.
  • Baroud, Ramzy. My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. London: Pluto Press, 2010.
  • Beinin, Joel and Rebecca L. Stein, eds. The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel, 1993-2005. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, with the Middle East Research and Information Project, 2006.
  • Benvenisti, Eyal. Legal Dualism: The Absorption of the Occupied Territories into Israel. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990.
  • Benvenisti, Eyal. The International Law of Occupation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Bianchi, Andrea, ed. Enforcing International Law Norms Against Terrorism. Portland, OR: Hart, 2004.
  • Bongar, Bruce, et al., eds. The Psychology of Terrorism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Coady, C.A.J. “The Morality of Terrorism,” Philosophy, 60 (1985): 47-69.
  • Coady, C.A.J. “Terrorism and Innocence,” Journal of Ethics, 8 (2004): 37–58.
  • Coady, C.A.J. Morality and Political Violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Chomsky, Noam. The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999 ed.
  • Chomsky, Noam. Middle East Illusions. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.
  • Cobban, Helena. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power and Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.'
  • Corlett, J. Angelo. Terrorism: A Philosophical Analysis. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003.
  • Cypel, Sylvain. Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse. New York: Other Press, 2006.
  • Finkelstein, Norman G.. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. London: Verso, 1995.
  • Frey, R.G. and Christopher W. Morris, eds. Violence, Terrorism and Justice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Gambetta, Diego, ed. Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Gareau, Frederick H. State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terrorism. Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2004.
  • Ginbar, Yuval. Why Not Torture Terrorists? Moral, Practical, and Legal Aspects of the “Ticking Bomb” Justification of Torture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Glass, Charles. “The Great Lie,” London Review of Books, Vol. 22, No. 23, 30 November 2000.
  • Glass, Charles. “Balfour, Weizmann and the Creation of Israel,” London Review of Books, Vol. 23, No. 11, 7 June 2001.
  • Gordon, Neve. Israel’s Occupation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008.
  • Gunning, Jeroen. Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
  • Hadawi, Sami. Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine. New York: Olive Branch Press, 1989.
  • Hajjar, Lisa. Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza. London: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Higgins, Rosalyn and Maurice Flory, eds. Terrorism and International Law. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Honderich, Ted. Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy. London: Pluto Press, revised ed., 2003.
  • Honderich, Ted. After the Terror. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003 ed.
  • Kassimeris, George, ed. Playing Politics with Terrorism: A User’s Guide. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
  • Kattan, Victor. From Coexistence to Conquest: International Law and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1891-1949. London: Pluto Press, 2009.
  • Kattan, Victor, ed. The Palestine Question in International Law. London: British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 2008.
  • Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2006.
  • Khan, L. Ali. A Theory of International Terrorism: Understanding Islamic Militancy. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2006.
  • Kimmerling, Baruch. Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians. London: Verso, 2003.
  • Kimmerling, Baruch and Joel S. Migdal. The Palestinian People: A History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
  • King, Mary Elizabeth. A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance. New York: Nation Books, 2007.
  • Kretzmer, David. The Occupation of Justice: The Supreme Court of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002.
  • Laor, Yitzhak. The Myths of Liberal Zionism. London: Verso, 2009.
  • Law, Stephen, ed. Israel, Palestine and Terror. London: Continuum, 2008.
  • Levy, Gideon. The Punishment of Gaza. London: Verso, 2010.
  • Makdisi, Saree. Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2008.
  • Maoz, Zeev. Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2006.
  • Masalha, Nur. A Land Without People: Israel, Transfer and the Palestinians. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.
  • Masalha, Nur. The Politics of Denial: Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Problem. London: Pluto, 2003.
  • Masalha, Nur. The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology, and Post-Colonialism in Israel-Palestine. London: Zed Books, 2007.
  • Mearsheimer, John J. and Stephen M. Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.
  • Miller, Seumas. Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
  • Mishal, Shaul and Reuben Aharoni. Speaking Stones: Communiques from the Intifada Underground. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.
  • Mishal, Shaul and Avraham Sela. The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  • Moghaddam, Fathali M. From the Terrorists’ Point of View. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International/Greenwood, 2006.
  • Pappé, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford, UK: Oneworld, 2006.
  • Pappé, Ilan, ed. The Israel/Palestine Question: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Primoratz, Igor, ed. Terrorism: The Philosophical Issues. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Primoratz, Igor, “Terrorism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2007 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
  • Richardson, Louise. What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat. New York: Random House, 2006.
  • Ruthven, Malise. “The Rise of the Muslim Terrorists,” The New York Review of Books, (Vol. LV, No. 9), May 29, 2008. Available:
  • Saul, Ben. Defining “Terrorism” in International Law. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Sayigh, Yezid. Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Seigman, Henry. “Is ‘Moral Equivalency’ Really So Wrong?” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2006.
  • Shlaim, Avi. Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations. London: Verso, 2009.
  • Slater, Jerome. “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 116, No. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 171-199.
  • Sterba, James P., ed. Terrorism and International Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Tamimi, Azzam. Hamas: A History from Within. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press/Interlink, 2007.
  • Waldron, Jeremy. “Civilians, Terrorism, and Deadly Serious Conventions,” (February 19, 2009). Available:
  • Weizman, Eyal. Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London: Verso, 2007.
  • Wilkins, Burleigh Taylor. Terrorism and Collective Responsibility. London: Routledge, 1992.
  • Younis, Mona N. Liberation and Democratization: The South African and Palestinian National Movements. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
  • Zertal, Idith and Akiva Eldar. Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007. New York: The Nation Books, 2007.

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